Expression Vs. Excellence: Can't it be both? (Self-Publishing)

#1 ranking author at Amazon and blogger, Charles Montgomery.

For my first post, I'd like to discuss some observations I've made since venturing into the world of indie publishing. The advent of KDP, Ingramspark, and the litany of other self-publishing businesses that have popped up over the last decade (along with services such as, have made it easier than ever for anyone to publish a book. This allows people like me, who have always felt like they could write a book, to actually try their hand at it; without having to devote too significant a portion of their days towards doing so. This new dynamic provides new opportunities for a larger section of the population, but also brings with it some serious pitfalls.

When anyone can write a book, anyone does write a book. Read that last sentence again.

If you've found this blog, you've most likely become acquainted with many of today's children's books, both traditionally and independently published. So, it's not news to you that a lot of what's out there is complete and utter garbage (and, let's be honest, most of it is independently published). Now, I don't use the term "garbage" lightly. I'm referring to those "rhyming stories" that are none of the above. Those "illustrations" that are cut and pasted from open forum clipart. Those "books" that are full of grammatical errors and typos. Those that make you wonder, "how could anyone, especially the author, possibly think this is good?!" Yes, indie publishing has opened the floodgates and allowed these "books" into the market. It is for this reason that many book reviewers, bloggers, and advertisers have a "no-independently-published-books" policy. I get that. They're inundated with books, and this is an easy way to weed out the bulk of the horrible ones without expending any time or energy to do so. They may well recognize that they're throwing out some babies with that bathwater, but that doesn't bother them. There are more than enough traditionally-published babies being left on their doorsteps.


However, I'm frequently running into a major issue on the traditionally published side of things that I don't believe is quite so prevalent on the indie side. It's an issue that many may perceive as elitism or snobbery (and there's definitely some of that in there!), but I believe it's something much worse. There's a culture of conformity that has taken hold of the picture book world, and in my opinion, it's out to kill creativity. Many publishers and reviewers will not look at a book that doesn't check all of its boxes and follow the "correct" formula. It doesn't take too much picture-book blog jumping to stumble upon a reviewer or author pontificating about the "correct picture to word ratio" or the caliber of artwork required of a "serious" illustrator. THIS IS CRAZY TALK. The most important element of children's picture books always has been and always should be how engaging they are for children. Do they inspire imagination, get a laugh, create a sense of awe and wonder, educate, or otherwise fulfill their intended purpose. The caliber of the artwork should not be judged by the standards of traditional artwork, but rather by how well it compliments the story. I'm not suggesting that a platform should be provided for clumsy, error-ridden, clip art-filled garbage. But that doesn't mean that every book has to follow some rigid set of rules. According to current picture book industry standards, some of my personal favorites, like Horton Hears a Who (too wordy!) and No David! (not enough words!), wouldn't exist. In fact, I'm not sure that any Dr. Suess illustrations are really up to snuff. Although organizations such as SCBWI are extremely valuable, they tend to push this formulaic approach to writing as well. This mentality kills creativity and sucks the life out of this precious industry. I think we (and by "we" I mean "they") need to take a step back and remember what this is all about.

It would be great if we lived in a world that would recognize and promote picture books based on their creativity and appeal to children. It would save so much effort for authors who are pushing through the weeds to try to get their books noticed. It would also allow them the freedom of uninhibited writing and illustrating, without having to worry about what market research says is the best blueprint for their target group. I don't think this post will convince any incompetent writers to get their acts together, nor will it melt the hearts of picture-book stuffed-shirts, but perhaps there's a choir of you out there that I can at least preach to? Let me know in the comments.

Follow author Charles Montgomery on Instagram, @charlesmontgomerybooks, and Facebook, Charles Montgomery Books!

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